The hit Chris Kunitz dished out to New York Islanders’ forward Josh Bailey looked to be illegal. After receiving a pass from Pascal Dupuis and throwing a one-timed shot on net, Kunitz launched Bailey flying into the end zone boards. Kunitz’s shoulder seemed to make contact square between the “1” and the “2” on the back of Bailey’s jersey. Bailey lost his footing and fell face-first into the boards not getting up under his own power.
Kunitz thought Bailey was going to engage in should-to-shoulder contact to fight for the loose puck in the corner behind Evgeni Nabokov’s net. Kunitz wanted to be the first to intiate contact entering a 50/50 battle in the corner. When Kunitz went to initiate contact, instead of catching Bailey’s shoulder, he engaged Bailey in the back. An immediate five minute major penalty and game misconduct were handed out ending Kunitz’s afternoon.
The 18,000+ at the Consol Energy Center were not at all thrilled with the call. Many of the Pens’ players were unhappy with the call made by referee, Tim Peel. Tomas Vokoun visibly disagreed with the call when Peel caught Vokoun shaking his head side-to-side as to say, “not a good call.” Vokoun was also simultaneously waving his glove in the air showing his displeasure after viewing a replay of the hit on the CEC video scoreboard. Peel interrupted the defensive zone face-off that was about to ensue, due to the Kunitz penalty, to lecture Vokoun for visibly protesting his call against Kunitz.
Not only did Pens’ players back the Kunitz hit on the ice immediately after the check took place, but many of the Pens’ players backed Kunitz after the game. Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was told by Douglas Murray, “I thought it was a hockey play. I don’t have a problem with it. He takes a shot and protects himself. I see it as a hockey play.”
Pens’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma was also quick to back Kunitz in his post-game press conference. “I thought 12 [Bailey] looked to get into Chris Kunitz. They had a shoulder to shoulder battle and Chris won the battle. So it ended up going into the boards not in a particular way you like to see a player go into the boards, but the player was looking to get into contact with Chris Kunitz and they came together.”
Islanders’ Head Coach Jack Capuano didn’t seem to agree with the Pens’ perspective. When asked about what he thought of the hit, he refused to specifically comment. “I saw the hit. I’m not going to comment on the hit.” Fortunately he’s okay. I guess some of the results came back, but obviously he’s stiff,” said Capuano.
Although the Pens’ players and their head coach thought the hit was clean, or a so-called hockey play, Kunitz hit Bailey square in the numbers constituting a hit from behind. On the other hand, Kunitz had no intent to injure Bailey on the play and there should be no further discipline from the league.
This was an unfortunate accident that took place at a dangerous area of the ice. Studying the video closely shows that Bailey also wanted to take the body on Kunitz right before they were about to engage on the puck in the corner. Bailey moves his shoulders in an attempt to gain momentum to throw a hit in Kunitz’s direction. To the dismay of Bailey, he was not directly next to Kunitz. Bailey was slightly in front of him. When Kunitz went to react, the first thing he met was Bailey’s back. Bailey lost his footing and his spill was interrupted when he smashed his face into the end boards. If this hit were in the open ice, or even further from the boards, nothing violent would have happened to Bailey.
What do you think? Does Kunitz deserve a suspension or was this a hockey play gone bad?
Justin Glock has covered the Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers since 2011. As a lead writer, his Penguins knowledge traces back over two decades. For any requests, please feel free to contact Justin via email: JGlock10@gmail.com.